UNDERSTANDING THE ELIGIBILITY FOR PRESUMPTION OF EXPOSURE BASED ON SHIPS LISTED BY THE INLAND WATER SERVICE PROGRAM “SHIP’S LIST”


To help eliminate confusion about which “Blue Water Navy” ships and crew members are granted the presumption of exposure to herbicide when they are listed on the “Ship’s List” released by the Project 211 Inland Water Service, the following five rules have been developed by that VA Project Office to clarify most questions that will arise.

For instance, according to these rules, when a Blue Water Navy ship anchors in any harbor and a whaleboat takes certain members of the crew ashore, ONLY those individuals who took the boat to shore and ended up on land (boots-on-ground) are authorized for the presumption of exposure, not the entire crew who stayed aboard while at anchor in harbor.

Pay close attention to these rules, as they will dictate your entitlement to benefits based on exposure to herbicides in Vietnam.

This write-up by the Veterans Benefits Division is valid as of the Ship’s List release dated July 9, 2013.

Navy and Coast Guard Ships Associated with Service in Vietnam and Exposure to Herbicide Agents

Background
This ships list is intended to provide VA regional offices with a resource for determining whether a particular US Navy or Coast Guard Veteran of the Vietnam era is eligible for the presumption of Agent Orange herbicide exposure based on operations of the Veteran’s ship

According to 38 CFR § 3.307(a)(6)(iii), eligibility for the presumption of Agent Orange exposure requires that a Veteran’s military service involved “duty or visitation in the Republic of Vietnam” between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975. This includes service within the country of Vietnam itself or aboard a ship that operated on the inland waterways of Vietnam. However, this does not include service aboard a large ocean-going ship that operated only on the offshore waters of Vietnam, unless evidence shows that a Veteran went ashore. Inland waterways include the rivers, canals, estuaries, delta areas, and enclosed bays of Vietnam. They do not include open deep-water harbors such as those at Da Nang, Nha Trang, Cam Ranh, or Vung Tau. These are considered to be part of the offshore waters of Vietnam because of their deep-water anchorage capabilities and open access to the South China Sea.

Ship Categories
The list contains five categories of ships that operated on the waters of Vietnam. A Ship is placed on this list when documentary evidence shows that it fits into a particular category. The required evidence can come from an official ship history, deck logs, cruise books, Captain’s letters, or similar documents. A specific ship may be listed in more than one category, based on its activities. Evidence requirements for the presumption of Agent Orange exposure may vary depending on what dates the Veteran was aboard and what ship activity occurred on those dates. Ship categories include:

I. Ships operating primarily or exclusively on Vietnam’s inland waterways
This category includes smaller naval vessels involved with patrolling and interdicting enemy activity on the inland waterways of Vietnam. It also includes ships supplying and supporting those operations. Examples of such vessels include swift boats, river patrol boats, and LSTs [landing ship, tank]. The inland waterways are often referred to as “brown waters” because of their muddy color and the naval vessels operating on them are referred to as the Brown Water Navy and/or the Mobile Riverine Force. All Veterans who served aboard these vessels are eligible for the presumption of Agent Orange exposure because their primary service was on the inland waterways of Vietnam.

II. Ships operating temporarily on Vietnam’s inland waterways
This category includes large ocean-going ships that operated primarily on Vietnam’s offshore waters for gunfire support of ground operations and interdiction of enemy vessels travelling along coastal waters. It also includes ships supplying and supporting these operations. Examples of such vessels include destroyers, cruisers, and cargo ships. The deep offshore waters are often referred to as “blue waters” and naval vessels operating on them are referred to as the Blue Water Navy. Ships in this category entered Vietnam’s inland waterways temporarily as part of their gunfire, interdiction, or support missions. All Veterans who served aboard these vessels at the time of entry into Vietnam’s inland waterways are eligible for the presumption of Agent Orange exposure.

III. Ships that docked to shore or pier in Vietnam
This category includes large ocean-going ships of the Blue Water Navy that entered an open water harbor and docked to a pier or otherwise docked to the shore of Vietnam. As a result of this docking, it is assumed that crewmembers had the opportunity to go ashore for a work detail or for liberty leave. Therefore, any Veteran aboard the ship at the time of docking will be eligible for the presumption of exposure if that Veteran provides a lay statement of personally going ashore.

IV. Ships operating on Vietnam’s close coastal waters for extended periods with evidence that crew members went ashore
This category includes large ocean-going ships of the Blue Water Navy that conducted a variety of missions along the close coastal waters of Vietnam for extended periods of time. Documentary evidence has been obtained for all ships in this category showing that some crewmembers actually went ashore. Examples of such vessels include hospital ships, harbor repair ships, mine sweepers, and seaplane tenders. Also included are combat ships, such as destroyers, when evidence shows that crewmembers went ashore. Because shore activity of some crewmembers has been documented, any Veteran aboard the ship at the time of documented shore activity will be eligible for the presumption of exposure if that Veteran provides a lay statement of personally going ashore.

V. Ships operating on Vietnam’s close coastal waters for extended periods with evidence that smaller craft from the ship regularly delivered supplies or troops ashore
This category includes large ocean-going ships of the Blue Water Navy that conducted supply missions to Vietnam or transported troops into and out of the country through use of smaller landing craft housed within the mother ship. Examples of such vessels include attack cargo ships, amphibious attack transports, and landing ship docks. The smaller landing vessels within these ships required a crew of from 3 to 14, depending on size, as they ferried supplies or troops to and from shore. Although official documents show that some crewmembers went ashore with the landing craft, they do not generally provide the names of these crewmembers. Additionally, many of these ships are listed for extended time frames because they routinely travelled back and forth between the US and Vietnam, and between Vietnam and other Asian Pacific ports, as they delivered supplies and troops to Vietnam. Therefore, military records should be checked to ensure that the Veteran was aboard when the ship was in Vietnamese waters (as shown by a PIES O34 request).

Any Veteran aboard the mother ship during the time frame of offshore Vietnam landing craft activity will be eligible for the presumption of exposure if that Veteran provides a lay statement of personally going ashore with the landing craft.

This list is evolving and is not complete. Therefore, the presumption of Agent Orange exposure should not be denied solely because the Veteran’s ship is not on this list. All development procedures described in Training Letter 10-06 should be followed in cases involving ship activity, including sending a request to the Army and Joint Services Records Research Center for review of deck logs. When regional office personnel obtain evidence showing that a ship fits into any of these categories, the evidence should be forwarded to the Compensation Service Agent Orange Mailbox so that the ship can be added to the list [VAVBAWAS/CO/211/AGENTORANGE].


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